Race Weekend Central

Shakedown Session: Does Ragan’s Folly Really Have Him On The Hot Seat?

by Brody Jones

If there’s anyone who really needed Trevor Bayne to win the Daytona 500 as much as a drowning man needs another bucket of water, it’s David Ragan. With rumors that were already swirling around Roush Fenway Racing that Ragan was on the hot seat, despite Jack Roush’s denials, the last thing Ragan needed was for the latest wunderkind in the Roush stable, Bayne, to have a strong showing. And in the late stages of the 500, it looked like maybe, just maybe, Ragan would forever silence the critics with a potential Daytona 500 win. But then, it happened. Ragan made a very costly blunder that not only cost him fame and immortality as a potential Daytona 500 winner, but it may have just been the latest nail in the coffin on his tenure with Roush Fenway Racing.

Yes, Ragan is a nice guy. But sadly, in the world of racing, there’s not usually room for nice guys. But when he switched lanes prematurely, he not only changed the course of history for Bayne, but he also made his own hot seat even hotter in a career that, outside of one lone season with him on the cusp of the Chase, he has looked like a newborn fawn in an apocalyptic meteor shower on the track at times. Case in point was his first start at Martinsville in 2006 where he hit everything but the pace car and led Tony Stewart to call him a “dart without feathers” after the race. The numbers do not lie. Outside of Ragan’s 2008 campaign that saw him earn 6 top-5 finishes and 14 top-10’s, he has a scant eight top-10’s in his other three seasons with Roush Fenway Racing. Not exactly the type of numbers that warrant Ragan a contract extension. Although he’s under contract to Roush until 2014, chances are if he doesn’t pick up his performance this year, we could be seeing Bayne in the famous No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford next year, maybe even before the year is out.

Ragan has had some good numbers in the Nationwide Series over the years, but those numbers have not translated into long term Sprint Cup success. And as each season passes on, he’s looking more like the NASCAR equivalent of Chumbawumba with one good season that somehow over-shadows three seasons of total mediocrity. Bayne, on the other hand, is running an unsponsored (as of press-time) entry in the Nationwide Series full-time and has shown a tremendous amount of upside in his Nationwide Series career. Though he only has two Cup starts, he’s turned heads in both starts and while it’s a bit premature to say if Bayne is the next Jimmie Johnson or the next Derrike Cope, his Cup career has kicked off with a loud and resounding bang, which is something that Jack Roush, UPS executives, and Ragan just can’t help but pay attention to.

For Ragan, making the biggest blunder for anything Fenway-related this side of Bill Buckner seems to be the tell-tale sign of his career at Roush Fenway Racing. Unless he picks up his performance to the levels he had in 2008, or at the very least wins a race, he is going to be under the shadow of Roush’s new golden boy in Bayne. The sad truth is that Ragan has done little to move Jack Roush into keeping him around beyond 2011 and that one of the most sincere and genuine people in the garage area is going to be shunted to the side in favor of Bayne. Granted, Bayne is a very grounded and down-to-earth person, but he has two things that Ragan still doesn’t have. A Daytona 500 win, let alone a Cup victory. The hot seat for Ragan is currently hotter than a Pentecostal hell and things don’t seem to be cooling down anytime soon for Ragan.

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